Royal Mail sell-off: Thatcherism lives on

Before postal workers even have a chance to strike over the plan.

 

Thatcherism lives on well into the new millennium it seems with the news that the government will rush the sale of Royal Mail before postal workers have a chance to strike over the plan.

Nothing could be more polarising this week following the now seemingly heroic Labour bravely, although perhaps unwisely throwing down the gauntlet to the energy companies while the Con-Dems attempt to royally screw the nation out of its postal service.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is balloting 100,000 of its members on a nationwide strike over the privatisation, as well as on changes to salary and pensions.

Voting in the strike ballot will close on 16 October while Royal Mail should be privatised by 15 October. The earliest a strike could take place is 23 October, making the whole thing seem a little bit pointless.

The depressingly low value of the post office has been placed between £2.6bn and £3.3bn after the government announced it will beginning selling shares between 260p and 330p each.

Bear in mind the businesses profits to the 52 weeks to the end of March jumped to £403m, up from £152m for the previous year on the back of its growing parcel delivery service, while, admittedly, the letter industry dies a long, torturous death trapped under an ever growing pile of junk mail.  

Despite its problems, many may struggle to see the upside of such a sale considering we are now seeing the long term affects of the utilities sell off. So what are the, hypothetical, pros?

Business secretary Vince Cable has said that the Royal Mail needs the capital this IPO will bring in order to modernise. In a kind of confused agreement chief executive at Royal Mail Moya Greene said that the company would "not change" while being better able to compete in a competitive market. That’s a thinker.

Vince and Moya are right in some respects; Royal Mail operates in an increasingly competitive market and, unlike the energy companies and the banks, the services on offer are not seen as one indistinguishable gelatinous blob, all giving the exact same service at the same price but with a different, just as ugly, face.

It’s not just a question of picking a provider and sticking with them until you get so pissed off you switch to a different one where the cycle begins all over again (in a way painfully reminiscent of out system of government). Royal Mail has to compete to be the first choice everyday of private people and businesses when there seems to be more UPS and FedEx trucks on the road than ever.

Perhaps privatisation is the way forward this time. If previous governments hadn’t done such a lamentable job the last few times, allowing big business overseas to take us all to the cleaners, maybe people would be able to see beyond the failures of the past to entertain the idea that this time it might work.

But the fear of stagnation, greedy profiteering, shady board room deals are not going to be far from peoples minds and pulling a fast one on the CWU in the back is unlikely to be seen as a fair but shrewd business tactic.

With the bull rush move of not allowing Royal Mail staff (who will be expected to carry a 10 per cent share of the company in less than a month) to have their say and, if they so choose to, call a strike, it seems the biggest government sell off since the early 90s is off to a bad start.

But hey, something’s got to pay for that sinking ship called HS2, right?

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.